Years ago, actually several decades now, I was charged with hiring an advertising agency for my employer.  I was a senior officer at my company then and had responsibility for several areas, with marketing and advertising being only a portion of what I did. When it came to selecting an agency…I had no idea.  What’s an ad agency?  What do they do?  How could they help? Why am I the one that has to deal with this? I’ll end this part by saying that I got really, really lucky.  I could have just as easily hired somebody that was pretending. Ours is a business populated with pretenders.  But I wound up hiring one of the wisest people I ever met.  I learned a lot.  Learned so much that I wanted to work for an agency.  I eventually moved from being a senior officer on the client side to becoming an agency suit.  I went to back to school, listened a lot and became an account guy. Now I’ve done it for so long, that some people are starting to confuse tenure with wisdom.  I won’t argue with them.  So now I’ve got something to pass along.

When I was a client, there were things that I loved about my agencies, things I disliked and things I hated.  When I was an agency account manager there were things I loved about my clients, things I disliked and things I hated.  While we essentially worked together to build brands and grow sales, we were always seated on opposite sides of the table.  The disconnects always came because we failed to either understand or appreciate what the other side of table had to deal with.  And I will not presume to tell anyone the best way to manage an account. I can only tell you how I’ve done it.

To Clients

1.Don’t ask for 4-color work when you only have a 2-color budget.

2.Don’t hire an agency based on what they charge.  Hire smart, experienced people that you can trust. They will help you develop a budget that fits your program and results in good work.  Remember that all agencies charge the same amount; it’s your budget.

3.Don’t tell the researcher how to do the research.  Tell them what you’re trying to understand about your market and why you think you need to know it.  And then ask if knowing will alter your strategy. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why you’re spending the money.

4.When you get a proposed media schedule, make sure there’s a rationale attached to it.  If you don’t understand the rationale, get somebody else to plan your media.

5.Nothing happens until somebody sells something.

6.You’re paying for the right to have an opinion about the creative process. But don’t assume that you know as much as the creatives. Ignore their advice at your own peril.

7.If you’re the one that has to approve the concepts and the campaign, don’t have a subordinate give the input to the agency.  Something will always be lost in the translation, and you’ll spend more money getting it to where you want to be.

8.If you don’t consider your agency a close working partner that you can confide in, start replacing them this afternoon. There are too many good shops with top people that can make a positive difference in your business.

9.What’s with the 10, 20 and 32 page RFPs?  Do you really need to know the salaries of the principals and how many vacation days the staff has?  You need to answer three things…

  • Do you like the work they’ve done for their clients?  If you personally like the work, you know that the agency can do work you’ll be proud of.
  • Do you respect the clients and brands they represent?  If they are working for companies that you can recognize and respect, then they can do work for you.  If you like their work but have never heard of any of their clients, keep looking.
  • Do you like them?

Great work comes from great relationships and lots of collaboration.  You’re going to spend a lot of time with the agency. You better be able to get along with them.

10.Things go wrong.  An ad doesn’t get placed, a typo doesn’t get caught, and a number gets left off.  It happens.  Don’t let it ruin a long and valuable relationship.  It’s how the agency resolves the problem that counts.

11.If an agency that’s pitching your business says they have never lost a client, don’t take that as a positive.  It just means they haven’t been around very long.

12.Don’t nickel and dime the shop just to see if you can get away with paying less on a particular project.  If it’s a good shop, they are busting their ass for you.  Hiring top people that are willing to work that hard is expensive.

13.When you ask for a change, adjustment, or accommodation, don’t assume the price won’t change.

14.You don’t have to out run the bear.  You just have to out run the guy next to you.

To Agencies

1.Don’t recommend 4-color work when they only have a 2-color budget.

2.Don’t accept clients that you know can’t afford you.  Curse you for doing it and it will only end badly.

3.Who should make final decisions on the creative? When the effluent hits the fan, who has to stand alone in front of the client and explain what happened?

4.Nothing happens until somebody sells something.

5.If a campaign fails, you could lose your client.  Your client could lose his job.

6.Don’t speak badly about your client to the creatives.  A negative attitude about a client will undoubtedly seep into the work.

7.Be cautious of clients who are afraid of their boss. Their input will always be suspect and getting approvals will drive you nuts.

8.Give them alternatives.
I used to work for a shop that believed that there is only one best idea, and that will be the only idea we present.  When we did that, two things happened.  The first was that we told the client that they were not going to participate in the creative process. And the second was that we were going to lose a week in a tight production schedule having to come up with an alternative concept because the first fricking best idea was rejected.  Hubris.

9.Estimates and invoices.
It’s not the price that will drive a client off, it’s the surprises.  Does the invoice bear a resemblance to the estimate? And don’t assume that when a client asks for a change that they are expecting an additional charge.  Tell them it will cost more.  I worked for two agency presidents that reviewed every invoice that went out. They would look at the work and the invoice together and made sure that there was a reasonable relationship between the two.  It takes practice to get there, but clients are looking for that connection all the time.

10.They will hire you for your creative and fire you for account service.

11.Service is defined by how you fix the problem.

12.The purpose of a communication is to get to the next communication.
Fly fishermen know that the best way to go after six-pound trout is to use two-pound test-line – patience. Experienced agency executives know that you can’t make a cold call and immediately expect a relationship and a contract. Just keep the communications going. You’ll get there.